“It would be amazing if you could show a sign you’re here.” This simple sentence might seem like a valid way to call out to spirits on a ghost hunt, but using contemporary terms like “cool,” “awesome,” or “amazing” might be confusing to spirits from earlier times or completely misunderstood by them. For instance, “amazing” in its modern sense of causing great surprise or wonder may not resonate with someone from the 18th century.
If the history of the location dates as far back as the 12th century and before, then your spooks are going to be speaking Old English. Predominantly used by the Anglo-Saxons, Old English is vastly different from modern English. Words like “þū” (you) and “hwæt” (what) would be unrecognisable to a modern English speaker. Attempting to communicate with a spirit from this era using contemporary English might be futile.
From around 1150 until 1500, the Middle English era began, which saw the transition towards a language more recognisable as English today, but it was still quite different. For example, the word “knight” was pronounced with a hard ‘k’ and ‘gh’ (as in “k-ni-ght”). Modern pronunciations would likely be unfamiliar to spirits from this period.
From around the 18th century onwards, things do get a little more familiar, but we still need to be cautious that some words have changed meaning over time. For example, “awful” in the past actually meant “worthy of awe” rather than something bad. Similarly, “nice” used to mean “ignorant.” Using these words in a modern context could lead to miscommunication with spirits from earlier eras.
The pronunciation of English has also evolved. For example, the Great Vowel Shift, a major change in the pronunciation of the English language, occurred between the 15th and 18th centuries and drastically altered the pronunciation of English vowels, impacting how words were spoken. The Great Vowel Shift primarily involved vowel sounds, but consonants and other aspects of language have also evolved. Being aware of these broader changes can be beneficial.
The shift gradually took place over several centuries, starting in the late Middle English period. It involved a change in the pronunciation of long vowel sounds, which shifted upwards. For example, the old pronunciation of the word “time” would have sounded more like “teem” or the word “house,” which was pronounced more like “hoos” before the shift. Similarly, “bite” would have sounded like “beet.” These changes were widespread and affected virtually all long vowels in the language.
This means that when trying to communicate with a spirit from, say, the 14th century, modern pronunciations might be confusing for them. Similarly, if a spirit from that era were to respond, their pronunciation might be difficult for a modern ghost hunter to understand. It might also be confusing if the response contains a once-common word that is now obsolete. Terms like “thee” and “thou” or “whither” (where) and “hither” (here) have fallen out of modern usage. A spirit from, say, the 16th century might use these terms, potentially leading to misunderstandings.
Understanding the period in which the spirit is believed to have lived can guide pronunciation and language use. For example, if investigating a Tudor-era site, mimicking the vowel sounds from that period might improve communication. This approach not only shows respect for the historical context of the spirits but also increases the likelihood of successful communication.
However, there might be more to this than just language and the possibility that spirits may not communicate through any form of English as we know it. It’s conceivable that spirits communicate through intentions or emotions, which are then ‘translated’ into a form of language comprehensible to the living. This theory suggests that what ghost hunters ‘hear’ or ‘understand’ from spirits is not a direct linguistic communication but an interpretation of the spirit’s intent by some unseen, paranormal means. If this were true, then it suggests that the barriers of language might be less rigid in the paranormal realm.
When attempting to contact spirits, stick to simple, straightforward language. Basic questions like “Who are you?” or “Are you there?” are less likely to be misinterpreted across different time periods. Also, you should avoid using modern sayings and idioms. Phrases like “kick the bucket” or “pulling my leg” are modern idioms that would likely be incomprehensible to spirits from older eras.
So, the next time you’re in a cold, dark, haunted building, remember that language is always evolving. What we consider modern English will continue to change, just as it has from Old to Middle and then to Early Modern English. Be open to older words and pronunciations, and don’t ruin your chances of communicating by using modern words. But also, be open to the possibility that you might be engaging in a form of communication far more complex and profound than mere words can convey.